NANSLO - Mission | Vision | History

History

NANSLO formalized the consortium in April 2011 as a result of funding it received through the Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) grant program. With the leadership of representatives from the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), the Colorado Community College System (CCCS), and BCcampus, and those from six other partner institutions, NANSLO established a remote web-based science lab (RWSL) at Colorado Community College System (CCCS) in Denver, replicating the capabilities offered at the existing RWSL at North Island College in British Columbia, Canada, and developed six immersive NANSLO lab activities in biology, chemistry, and physics. See NGLC Initiative for more information.

In October 2012, NANSLO as part of a four-year project (2012-2016) funded by a U.S. Department of Labor’s Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant, expanded its NANSLO lab activities, added an additional lab and expanded the capabilities in its two existing labs.  As a result, it now has three labs serving a large number of students at multiple institutions.  It also was able to launch a NANSLO Network Scheduling System allowing multiple institutions to book reservations through multiple NANSLO labs. 

Mission

The North American Network of Science Labs Online (NANSLO) provides a consortium approach to the development and deployment of high-quality, modular, openly licensed courseware integrating learner-centered and immersive web-based labs using software, video and robotics for the study of science courses.

As institutions work to respond to our nation’s pressing need for more STEM-educated workers, NANSLO is a new tool faculty can use to enable online students to take some lab courses over the Internet. This opens the door to a growing sector of students who have been precluded from pursuing fields of study in the sciences because they could not enroll in campus-based lab courses due to their location, work or family responsibilities.

Indeed, the number of students studying online in the U.S. has grown at a rapid pace. According to the Sloan Consortium’s 2012 study Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States, the number of online students now taking at least one online course is 6.7 million students or approximately 32 percent of all students. Nearly 70 percent of institutions report that online learning is critical to their long-term strategy.

For many science students living in the western U.S. where NANSLO is based, online learning may be the only option for beginning or continuing their college education. Hundreds of miles may separate them from the nearest campus and if they leave their jobs to take courses, their small communities may have to go without the critical services they provide as workers in allied health, teaching, and other science-related professions.

But NANSLO is not just a tool for non-traditional students. It also has the potential to reduce barriers traditional students face at institutions where laboratory space is limited and classes are often over-booked. Not only may it expand access for these traditional students, but NANSLO may do this while reducing costs as institutions share use of remote laboratories participating in the NANSLO network.

Vision

NANSLO is envisioned as a network of remote web-based laboratories located at institutions across North America. Each location, or node on the network, would have one or more laboratories serving its own students and possibly those of other participating institutions on a fee-for service basis. The laboratories may have a wide selection of equipment, supporting multiple science fields, or specialize in one in particular. A centralized scheduling system would allow faculty to reserve time for their students in a specific laboratory for selected experiments and bill them for its use.

Three types of laboratories are envisioned: development, production, and faculty sandbox.

  • A development laboratory is one where programmers work with software, robotics, and scientific equipment such as microscopes to develop and test new lab experiments requested by faculty for use in their courses.

  • A production laboratory is one that hosts online experiments that faculty can reserve for use by their students. Time can be reserved for single students or teams of students. The cost for this use would vary with the type of experiment, amount of time needed, and whether lab tech support would be required or not.

  • The faculty sandbox is a laboratory where faculty could become acquainted with remote labs by watching demos or by conducting specific experiments themselves. They could collaborate with colleagues in the development of openly-licensed curriculum for new lab exercises as well as in identifying specifications for new experiments. The sandbox would also provide a testing and faculty training site for newly developed experiments.

Initially, NANSLO will focus on introductory courses in biology, chemistry, and physics but plans to expand its work in these areas and add other disciplines such as geology, engineering, astronomy, and many more over time. NANSLO will conduct research on the effectiveness of student learning in these experiments and use the results to inform continuous improvements in them. It will also share relevant results publicly so that other institutions and faculty interested in this approach can learn from the NANSLO effort.